When it comes to stage productions, everybody has their preferences. Some like drama, and some like whimsy. Some like deep thinking, and some prefer fun and action. There are those whose tastes are nostalgic, and then there are those who look for a moral edification. When all these things are combined in a musical where even the spoken lines rhyme, you have the Montpelier High School production of ‘Seussical’, which was staged in the school auditeria over the weekend of March 10.
The material source of a musical titled ‘Seussical’ should be more than obvious. With characters including Horton the Elephant; Gertrude McFuzz, the bird with the one-feather tail; the Whos of Whoville; Things 1 and 2; General Genghis Khan Schmitz; Mayzie La Bird; the Sour Kangaroo; the Grinch and of course the Cat in the Hat, the source could be no other than the brilliant mind of Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss. The stage presentation brings together several elements of several Geisel stories, and the students of Montpelier High School brought the characters to life in a well constructed and vivid set that transported the audience into the Jungle of Nool.
As the lights came down and the pit orchestra began to crescendo, Thing 2 (portrayed by Elizabeth Fritsch) came out to introduce the performance. The audience finds itself in the microscopic world of Whoville with the introduction of Jojo (Braden Saneholtz), the son of the Mayor of Whoville. Jojo is constantly finding himself in trouble with adults who chide him for his daydreaming. The Cat in the Hat (Cameron Null) appears, telling Jojo, “I can see that you’ve got quite a mind for your age.”
Meanwhile in the Jungle of Nool, Horton (Colin Rockey) hears a distant cry for help. He follows the sound to a tiny speck of dust floating through the air and realizes that there are people living there, people so small that they can’t be seen: the tiny citizens of Whoville. Horton vows to help them and places Whoville safely onto a soft pink clover just as Sour Kangaroo (Meili Leung) and her baby arrive. The Sour Kangaroo thinks Horton is crazy for talking to a speck of dust, and she, the Wickersham Brothers, a trio of ornery monkeys (Alex Sandoval, Roman Sommer and Chandler Byers), and the rest of the citizens of the Jungle of Nool mock him for his supposed delusions. The ubiquitous Cat in the Hat weaves through the number, taking on the persona of a talk show host who interviews everyone in the jungle, including Mayzie La Bird (Megan Allman) and her backup group of Bird Girls (Lydia Grime and Brooke Ward). The only one who stands up for Horton is his neighbor, Gertrude McFuzz (Kathryn Taylor), who is not noticed by anyone, most of all Horton.
Horton is left alone and discovers much more about the Whos and their tiny town of Whoville, and promises to take care of them, because, “…a person’s a person, no matter how small.” Despite their size differences, Jojo and Horton become friends, with the common thread of having those around them believing that they are imagining each other, making them feel like they are ‘alone in the universe’.
With Jojo’s imagination going unchecked, his parents decide to introduce their son to General Genghis Khan Schmitz (Jaden VanTong). They feel the rigors of military school will straighten out their unusual son, but the result is far from what they desired. After a long and very tough first day at military school, Jojo sits alone in his bunk, while simultaneously, Horton sits alone guarding the clover upon which rests Whoville.
Meanwhile in another part of the jungle, Gertrude, who believes that Horton doesn’t notice her because of her pathetically small and uninteresting tail, has just written another love song about Horton. Mayzie appears with her Bird Girls and offers advice, which leads Gertrude to Doctor Dake (Cameron Null) and his pills for amazing feather growth. Gertrude overdoses on the pills, but is very happy as her tail begins to grow. The Cat in the Hat appears to warn Gertrude that trouble is on its way. The warning proves true as Gertrude’s tail begins to grow out of control.
The Wickersham Brothers decide to take their harassment of Horton to another level, and they decide to steal the clover with Whoville on it. They ambush Horton, grab the clover, and a chase scene begins as the monkeys tease Horton as he huffs and puffs after them through the Jungle of Nool. Flanked by Thing 1 and 2 (Kimme Engels and Fritsch), the Cat in the Hat plays a helicopter newscaster, tracking the chase.
The Wickershams hand off the clover to a black-bottomed eagle named Vlad Vladikoff (Justin Wiyrick). The Cat in the Hat freezes the action for a moment, takes the clover from Vlad, then after unfreezing the action, drops it directly into an enormous field of clover…much to Horton’s horror. Horton begins looking for the Whos, clover by clover by clover. Gertrude has followed the chase, and she arrives determined to tell Horton how she truly feels. Horton doesn’t notice her at all though, and just continues looking for the Whos. Gertrude leaves, rejected and sad.
Later, Mayzie La Bird calls to a still searching Horton from her nest in a tree. She’s bemoaning the monotony of sitting on an egg, and she convinces him to sit on the nest for a while she takes a brief vacation. The gullible Horton agrees to stop his search and give Mayzie a break, unaware that she is scheming something other than a brief vacation. Days, weeks, months and seasons pass, and Horton remains stuck, sitting on the egg, the Whos are still lost in the clover, and Gertrude still cannot get Horton to notice her or her very long tail. Hunters suddenly arrive, and finding a novel sight of an elephant in a tree, sitting in a birds nest, capture Horton and the egg. Gertrude is unable to help because her tail is so large that she can no longer fly. Chaos begins, but once again the Cat freezes the scene and Horton, Gertrude, the Cat and all the Whos send the audience out to intermission. Just before disaster strikes, the curtain comes down.
The orchestra begins the overture to the second act, under the direction of the Cat in the Hat. The music becomes increasingly wild and out of control with a flair that harkens back to the musical stylings of the Mothers of Invention. Sheet music pages fly, and the baton goes crazy before the Cat finally regains control so that Act Two can start.
The audience is returned to the Jungle of Nool, where Horton, still on the tree nest, is carried away by the hunters. After a long, arduous journey by sea, Horton arrives in New York, where he is auctioned off for $1 million to “The Circus McGurkus”. The Ringleader, Mr. McGurkus (Cameron Null), introduces the audience to his fantastical circus, with Horton as his main attraction. As the circus travels across the country, Horton worries about Jojo and Whoville, all while wondering when Mayzie will return to her egg.
The circus lands in Palm Beach, where the still vacationing Mayzie lounges beneath a palm tree, now bemoaning the monotony of vacationing. Deciding that she needs a change of scenery, Mayzie heads to the circus, where she runs into Horton. He begs her to take back her egg, but Mayzie decides that Horton would be a better parent for her egg than she could ever be, so she gives him the egg for good and leaves before he can say no. The ever faithful Horton accepts the responsibility of caring for the egg, even though he still worries about Jojo and the Whos. He sings the egg a lullaby about a magical place called “Solla Sollew.”
The next morning, General Schmitz and his military cadets, including Jojo, head off to war to fight the “Butter Side Downers,” who eat their bread the wrong way. Jojo confronts the General about the immorality of the war and quits, exiting the stage. As he departs from sight though, an extremely loud explosion is heard, and Jojo is gone…or is he?
Back in Whoville, the Christmas pageant is under way, led by the Grinch (Justin Wiyrick). General Schmitz enters with his cadets and approaches Mr. and Mrs. Mayor with the news that their son had been lost in the war. Jojo had indeed survived however, but was dazed and lost. Frightened, Jojo blames the Cat in the Hat for all his troubles, after which the Cat helps him find his way home to the arms of his parents by listening to his own hunches.
Meanwhile, far away at the Circus McGurkus, Gertrude finally finds Horton, still on the nest. She has gotten rid of her unwieldy tail and has journeyed great distances and through much peril to find and rescue him. Again proclaiming her affection for him, she mentions one more thing to Horton…she has found and brought with her the Whos’ clover. Horton finally notices that Gertrude is amazing.
Just as things are looking up, trouble again arrives from the Jungle of Nool, as the Sour Kangaroo and the Wickersham Brothers arrive and make a citizen’s arrest. They take Horton back to the Jungle of Nool, where he is put on trial for talking to a speck and sitting on an egg. Judge Yertle the Turtle (Rheanna Stoy) sentences Horton to the Nool Asylum for the Criminally Insane, and orders that the speck of dust be boiled. Horton trumpets his protest and tells the Whos that they must yell to be heard; they have to prove they exist…and there’s no time to lose!
The Whos scream and make as much noise as they can, but still, despite their efforts, only Horton can hear them. Suddenly, Jojo comes up with an idea…a new word to shout that will be heard by everyone: YOPP! It is the voice of Jojo that finally is heard by all of the animals of Nool, and Whoville is saved. Just then, the egg begins to crack, and all gather around as the new baby emerges. The inhabitants of the Jungle of Nool are astonished to see an Elephant Bird. Lamenting his lethargy and lack of wings Horton looks to Gertrude for help in raising it together, realizing that she is his ‘one true friend in the universe’, and she agrees, saying, “You teach him earth, and I will teach him sky.” A new and very unusual family is formed, as the production comes to a close.
There were so many knockout performances in this production, it would be a fools errand to name them all. Needless to say, everything from the pit orchestra, to the lighting, to the set constructions and the stage crew was as exceptional as the performances on the stage. Director Michael Moyseenko has developed a track record of getting the best from his staff, and ‘Seussical’ did nothing buy solidify that reputation.
If there was one flaw to be found, it would be in the timing…it was too short for how good it was. That lamentation, however, will have to be addressed with the writers. The kids of Montpelier High School already did their part by going well above and beyond in their presentation.
Timothy Kays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org